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Rimfire vs Centerfire Scopes – What Makes them Different?

When investing in a rifle scope, it’s important to keep in mind what sort of specifications you’re after and what your budget is. Before you pick out a scope, it is important to know the sort of rifle you have and what type of shooting you’re involved in. The two main types of scopes are rimfire and centerfire scopes. Before we move forward, let’s just get a basic understanding of both.

What is the Difference between a Rimfire and Centerfire Scope

What is Rimfire Ammunition?

Rimfire ammunition contains primer in the ammunition casing rim. It is restricted for use in smaller caliber weapons since the walls of the cartridge need to be crushed by the firing pin and light up the primer.

Here is why some shooters prefer to use rimfire ammunition:

  • Rimfire ammunition is generally quite affordable which gives it a slight edge over centerfire ammunition.
  • It is suitable for use in weapons with low recoil and is therefore ideal for newbies.
  • Rimfire ammo is usually a possible choice when hunting small game.

However, there are many reasons why centerfire ammunition is steadily becoming more popular among shooters:

  • Rimfire rounds cannot be reloaded. They’re relatively cheaper so if you can afford to constantly get new ones, this won’t be a problem for you.
  • The primer may not always be in contact with the casing, so there is a chance that you might not be able to shoot.
  • You can’t use rimfire ammo in larger weapons, so their usage is very limited.
  • With rimfire ammunition being used in smaller weapons, it’s not feasible to use for long-range shooting

What is a Rimfire Scope?

Rimfire scopes have a parallax setting of around 50 yards and are suitable for short-range shooting. They are specially designed for use with rifles that have low recoil because they’re not strong enough to withstand the force of a high level of recoil.

They also have typically shorter eye relief (When do you need a Long Eye vs Short Eye Relief Scope?). The milder recoil that you usually get from a rimfire rifle reduces the need to have long eye relief. Due to the fact that rimfire scopes are used for close-range shooting, you should have a scope with a parallax setting for 25 yards or 50 yards instead of the typical 100-yard parallax you often see on hunting optics. If the scope does not have parallax error correction adjustment then you’ll have a harder time to focus on your target once you go out to longer ranges.

What to Look Out for With a Rimfire Scope

Rimfire scopes are generally not too expensive (the good ones start at around USD 100+), but there are some things to consider:

  • Some of the cheaper rimfire scopes are made of plastic and won’t be able to stand even a little bit of recoil. They should be avoided.
  • Riflescopes should not be used with airguns since they have a high level of recoil and will damage your scope beyond repair.
Rimfire vs Centerfire Scope - Recoil on Centerfire rifles is higher so you need larger distance between your eye and the objective lens and better quality of the scope. Rimfire rifles are mild in recoil and the scopes are often of low quality but are also much cheaper.

What is Centerfire Ammunition?

Centerfire ammunition is very multipurpose and can be used for rifles, handguns, and even shotguns (Can you use a rifle scope on a shotgun? Do you need special shotgun scopes?). Unlike the rimfire ammo, here, the primer is in the center of the casing which also means that it is reloadable. This is because the cartridge walls of centerfire ammunition are stronger and will remain intact even after firing a shot.

Centerfire ammo is becoming popular among shooters because:

  • It is more reliable than rimfire ammunition because the cartridges are thicker.
  • It can be used with higher caliber weapons such as .38 and 0.40

Centerfire ammunition generally costs a lot more than rimfire ammunition, but the reliability and versatility of use make it worth it.

What is a Centerfire Scope?

Centerfire scopes have a preset parallax adjustment of around 100 yards or a little more. They also have an Adjustable Objective (AO) lens which makes parallax adjustment easier.

Centerfires also have longer eye relief (What is Rifle Scope Eye Relief?). This is needed as they often produce more recoil and if you use a short eye relief rifle scope you might end up with scope bite around your eye (How to not scope yourself!).

They generally cost significantly more than rimfire scopes (around USD 400+) but they can be used with practically any type of rifle and are less prone to damage so the investment is worth it. They also have better glass quality which provides better light transmission and a clearer shot.

Centerfire scopes are usually MOA or Mil-Dot scopes that can be treated as range-finders. The reticle of the scope can be used to attain an approximate calculation for the distance of a target (whose size is known) and vice versa.

Centerfire vs Rimfire Scope - Rimfire scopes are often lower in quality. Centerfire scopes are high-quality and work on nearly any kind of rifle.

What are the Differences between a Rimfire & Centerfire Scope?

Apart from the price point, there are various other factors that set rimfire and centerfire scopes apart. Let’s have a look at the difference between a rimfire and centerfire scope:

Eye Relief & Parallax Adjustment

The main difference between rimfire and centerfire scopes revolves around the eye relief and parallax adjustment of the lens. For short distances and good lighting, the differences between the two are practically non-existent.

However, in order to get a clear shot at a long-distance or in dimmer settings, a centerfire scope is probably better-suited since the quality is usually better than that of the rimfire.

Centerfire scopes are high-powered and can give you a clean shot up to and beyond 300 yards. Rimfire scopes are suitable for short-range shooting of around 50 yards and a little more.

You can get scopes with adjustable parallax but if you pick one with fixed parallax then make sure that the parallax calibration is matching your rifle. If you use a centerfire rifle then it makes sense to have a parallax setting of 100 yards. A rimfire rifle should have parallax being set at 50 yards which results in a parallax-free optic for short ranges. Even if you move your head when you’re looking through the scope you won’t experience optical distortions at such short ranges.

The long-range capabilities of a centerfire scope are why you want the parallax to be at a longer range like at 100 yards to begin with. In many cases, it would be best for the centerfire setup to get an optic with adjustable parallax that you can dial in through a side focus knob on the scope. A rimfire scope is used for short distances and therefore the parallax calibration should be adjusted to that.

Many of the newer scopes have side focus adjustments. Older scopes often come with adjustable objectives to remove parallax and get a crisp target image. This is still true today where you often can find an adjustable objective on a cheaper scope, which can in many cases be a rimfire scope.

If you’re looking at a red dot or holographic sight instead of a scope then most of those are parallax-free. There are no parallax adjustments required and you’ll enjoy a target image that’s free of distortions.


Rimfire scopes are used with rifles that have low recoil. This can improve the accuracy of your aim because:

  • The presence of recoil can make you flinch and miss your mark
  • High recoil can cause your scope to be misaligned and it will need to be sighted again before you shoot.

Both of these problems can impact the accuracy of your aim if you’re working with a centerfire scope and ammo.

Centerfire scopes are typically having a large variety of ranges to cover. Having

Are Rimfire Scopes Better for Short-Range Shots?

Rimfire bullets are lighter in weight and can only be used for short-range shooting. In fact, if you shoot at distances of even a hundred yards or more, your shots will be greatly affected by crosswinds. Even a slight breeze can sway your target by a couple of inches.

For strong, fast-moving targets, even if they’re at shorter distances, a centerfire scope is the better option because you can shoot faster and the bullet will be strong and fast enough to hit your target.

Comparison of Rimfire and Centerfire Rifle Scopes - Which should you use for what rifle and shooting scenario?


Rimfire scopes are ideal for target practice and shooting at small, moving targets.

Centerfire scopes are suitable for shooting at larger, stronger, fast-moving targets at long distances.


Centerfire scopes usually have a larger magnification range as compared to rimfire scopes. For instance, centerfire scopes may have magnification between 4-14X as opposed to rimfire scopes which may have a range of 2-7X or maybe 3-9X.

Can You Use a Rimfire Scope on a Centerfire Rifle?

Rimfire scopes cannot be used on a centerfire rifle because they typically won’t be able to handle the recoil. Rimfire scopes are generally of lower quality as compared to centerfire ones, so it’s possible to use a centerfire scope on rimfire rifle (without fearing the cracking of the lens) but the reverse is not a good idea. It can damage your lens beyond repair.

Rimfire scopes are suited for low caliber weapons such as a .22 caliber gun.

Can You Use a Centerfire/Normal Scope on a Rimfire Rifle?

As discussed already, the answer to this is yes. The centerfire can handle a high level of recoil and is also preset for around a hundred yards, which makes it multipurpose.

Comparing Rimfire and Centerfire Rifle Scopes

Making Your Decision

At the end of the day, there are several factors that can influence your purchase decision. Apart from whether you choose the rimfire or centerfire, factors such as magnification range, fixed or variable scope, parallax adjustments, the presence of OA, amount of eye relief, level of recoil and so on, are equally important.

For the serious shooter, the centerfire seems like the obvious choice because of its specifications. However, if you’re starting out, a rimfire scope is more suitable because it works well for close-range shots, and if it does sustain damage, the loss won’t be as great since it is cheaper. 

Your aim in the long-run should be to obtain a centerfire scope since it can be used on both rimfire and centerfire rifles and is more reliable and useful than a rimfire scope.

Kevin Collins